I would just like to start by saying there's nothing wrong with paying for it!!! Thanks to my two fabulous consorts and our 14 new BFFs in Kabukicho, I had the best birthday a girl could ask for. What follows dear readers, are the details of our adventures among the dark streets of Kabuki town.
The three of us set out skirted and patent-heeled from Shinjuku station's east exit for some pre-drinks and food to line our stomachs for the imbibing to take place later. We ended up at Cushion de Asia, a soothing and soft wonderland of gauzy white curtains, plush carpet and cushions that serves "Italian Ethnic" food, which we learned means European food with some selections from Southeast Asian cuisine. Some carbs and two pink grapefruit sours later we were on our way, clear plastic umbrellas held high.
What a difference from my recon work! Primped and polished, the men working the street knew we were customers and vied to get our attention. One guy came up to me and asked what we were looking for. Hosts! I replied and he moved away. I guess he was selling something else that night. After an African guy asked me if I was a virgin and some more walking we came upon Club Love, with its show lights and light boards featuring glossy head shots of the hosts in descending order from the top ranking three. There was no one around and the long jewelled staircase leading to mirrors and more lights was empty. When we arrived at the bottom there was a reception window to the side and no questions asked, we were instantly whisked to a table amid a cacophony of chandeliers, sparkle and glitz. The interior of the club was truly amazing and felt like an exclusive carnival. Before we could finish wiping our hands with the hot towels 7 hosts swarmed our table and served up a bottle of shochu that was then mixed with mineral water and served to everyone.
We launched into conversation which was almost non-stop for the entire two hours we were there. I had read some reviews of host clubs online and many of the women had said they were relieved the clubs were much tamer than they had imagined, with no touching or dirty talk. So imagine my surprise when we immediately launched into a discussion of my dirty pillows, which set a tone where the rest of the night the word "penis" was the buzzword and we bantered back in forth with sexy innuendos and double entendres. The only real break came an hour in when it was time for the hosts to change and we got a whole new set of 7 at the table with us. Before departing the first group said that we could request anyone we fancied by name and they would come back to the table for free (requesting hosts by name usually carries a fee in subsequent visits). There were several in the first group I would have liked to stay but not knowing what we were doing, we didn't end up requesting anyone.
It was so interesting to watch how different the hosts were. We had hosts at our table from their early twenties until their mid thirties, and it was clear which were more experienced than others by where they sat, how they ran the conversation and how the other hosts acted in relation to them. I know this particular club has a huge range of hosts both in looks and age (the oldest is in his sixties), and both times that we received a new group of hosts at our table, I remember thinking how different they all were (and there were some real hotties!). The service was flawless and I understand now why they get paid the big bucks. There wasn't just seamless refilling of drinks, lighting of cigarettes and wiping of glass condensation, but despite my earlier misgivings about going to the club as a group of three gaijin with varying levels of Japanese, the hosts were true professionals in keeping up the conversation and I noticed them switching seats at several points to arrange the hosts in a fashion in which none of us was left without conversation.
The hosts told us that gaijin hardly ever go there, but luckily the conversation wasn't saturated with the typical Japan/overseas comparison that arises in so many first conversations with Japanese people. Except for some key important topics surrounding sex, Japanese men and Japanese women. Some of the comments made by the the hosts belied things I've heard other (by this I mean non-paid) Japanese men say and I have to assume that much of what we discussed last night wouldn't have been brought up with Japanese female customers. Which made me think that maybe the hosts had a good time too, and several of them assured us they did. But you see that? I am already falling into the trap of believing the well-practiced words of complimenting pretty boys. It was hard not to, even for the skeptic in me and I now (shock horror) understand some of the reasons women give for going to host clubs.
My favourite from the evening was a host in his early thirties who was a scrumptious mix of Johnny Depp and Kimura Takuya. Upon hearing it was my birthday, he went out and bought me half a dozen red roses, which for a moment I actually worried would be added to our bill! When I looked through my purse this morning I found a thick stack of business cards and coasters with the hosts' names and numbers scrawled on them. The business cards were the best though, some with model-like pictures of the host pouting for the camera and others with hologram backgrounds. When asked by a couple of the hosts for my number and email address, I tried to tactfully get out of it, but by the end of the night I managed to get pressured into giving two of them my number. How can you say I don't give out my number when a smooth-talking host is telling you to put his phone number in your phone and call him so that he has yours? I've already received calls from both of them but haven't answered. As tempted (and I am very tempted) as I am to pick up and see what they say (research purposes of course), I will not let myself fall prey, as so many Japanese women before me have, to the flattery of pretty boys. For the record, when I say pretty boys I'm not implying that they are all effeminate, quite the opposite in fact. I just like saying pretty boys.
Something that did come up several times was the existence of the host club. Most of our companions were of the opinion that the reason there are host clubs in Japan and not Overseas, is that us Foreign ladies are used to "ladies first" and don't need to pay for it while our Japanese sisters would like to get used to it but often find it lacking in their lives. Thus, the birth of the host club-a place where women can go to feel good about themselves. Perhaps it is a circular argument, but aren't host and hostess clubs further perpetuating this apparent gulf between men and women here? How will men and women in Japan find the kind of intimacy, sweetness and respect they are looking for in a relationship when they can pay for a flawless version of it elsewhere? Instead of trying to fix things with their partners, people in Japan accept they are not getting it at home or forgo a partner altogether, and pay for companionship of some kind. I feel so lucky to have the closeness the beau and I have but I was still a total sucker for those dirty-talking boys last night.
These clubs really do create a fantasy land for women. I've had some interesting conversations with Japanese guys before but last night was unbridled freedom in what I said and what was said and it was an exhilarating feeling. Despite my firm resolve not to answer my phone if the hosts call again, there is of course a small part of me that would like to think they are calling because they had a good time with us last night and want to be friends or hang out. It's all part of the game though isn't it, and it goes to show how very good they are at what they do.